When I got home, the front door was unlocked. I rushed in, but the place was empty. The bedroomette looked exactly as I’d left it. I kicked off my boots, wrapped Ivy’s quilt around myself and wandered into the kitchen, where Ivy and I liked to hang out after school as long as Bryan wasn’t around. Mom had found diner chairs with glittery red seats to match Grandma’s table. She’d strung fairy lights over the cabinets, and we’d covered the fridge with our favorite photos. I stared at one of Ivy and me, doing cartwheels at the Oregon coast one day last summer. We were upside down, our wet hair falling in our faces, and you could tell we were having a blast.
Please come home. I willed the thought to reach her.
I don’t know how much time passed before I heard a car pulling up. I jumped to my feet, but it was only Mom, getting dropped off by Poppy.
“Ivy wasn’t at school!” I pounced on her. “She’s still missing.”
For a minute, she just stood there in her paint-spattered overalls, swaying slightly. “I don’t get it. I was so sure she’d be there.” She pinched the space between her eyes again. “I don’t know what to do, Lolo.”
I didn’t have a clue either, but I knew that someone had to take charge. “I’m going to make you some coffee,” I said, because Ivy always said that caffeine would stave off a headache, and I needed to keep Mom on her feet. “And then you have got to call the police. It’s been almost twenty-four hours.”
She gave the tiniest of nods, which chilled me to the core, because if she was willing to override her fear of the cops, it meant she believed that there was true cause for panic. But as I grabbed the carafe from the coffee maker, I noticed something. Tucked underneath it was a sheet of lined paper, neatly folded.
I opened it up. “Mom!” I said. “I think it’s from Ivy!”
She huddled beside me so we could read the note together.
I’m sorry for taking off like this, but I think we both need to cool down. I hate the way you always put Bryan first. He is a total creep, and I don’t know why you can’t see that. Don’t freak out. I’m just going to visit my friend from camp. She lives up in Portland. They’ve got this week off for fall break, and she’ll give me a ride home on Halloween. You don’t need to worry about me.
“Well that’s a relief,” Mom said in a wobbly voice. “I was getting really scared.”
I reread the note several times, squinting at the words as if they were written in a foreign language. “I can’t believe she wrote this,” I said at last.
“What do you mean?” Mom said. “It’s her handwriting.”
“But I made coffee this morning. I would’ve seen this note.”
“It was the crack of dawn,” she reminded me. “You were exhausted.” She sighed. “I wish you two wouldn’t be so hard on Bryan. He hasn’t called, has he?”
“What about your missing daughter!” I exploded. “Don’t you care about her?”
“Of course I do, but she’s not missing. She’s in Portland.”
I began to pace, looking out the window at the dark sky and the darker forest beyond. “But how did she get there? It’s three hours away.”
“I guess her friend must have picked her up.”
“What friend? She hated that camp! She said she couldn’t relate to anyone.” I ran to our room and came back with a postcard that she’d sent me.
This so-called art camp sucks. Wish you were here, or even better—wish i WASN’T! I truly don’t know if I can make it through a whole week. Ugh. Ives.
“Look!” I held the postcard up to prove my point, but instead of reading it, Mom once again declared that the handwriting was the same as on the note. I scrutinized it more closely. “No it’s not,” I said. “Look—there’s no stars on this note.”
“What are you talking about?” It was clear that Mom was fed up, and her expression didn’t soften as I tried to explain that Ivy always dotted her i’s with stars.
We had nearly matching birthmarks on the inside of our wrists—hers was on her right wrist, and mine was on my left—that looked a little bit like stars. As kids, we used to pretend that they were the source of superpowers that we could activate by holding hands. In our notes to each other, we always dotted our i’s with stars.
“But this note wasn’t for you, Laurel,” Mom reminded me.
I sat down, crossing my arms on the table and resting my cheek on them. She sighed and sat beside me, placing her hand on the back of my head. “You know,” she said more gently, “I was seventeen, just like Ivy, when I went on the road to follow the Grateful Dead. I thought I had to get away from everyone who knew me, to discover who I really was.”
“But Ivy knows who she is,” I protested.
“Don’t worry, Lolo. She’ll be back on your birthday, just like she promised.”
My birthday. I hadn’t even registered that this was when she’d promised to return. As a little kid, I didn’t like it that my birthday fell on Halloween, because it meant that everyone already had plans, and it wasn’t really my special day. But Ivy managed to turn this to my advantage. We’d go trick-or-treating together, and at every door, she’d announce that it was my birthday, so I should get at least twice the candy. By the end of the night, my pillowcase would be so full that she’d have to help me lug it home.
This year, we were supposed to go to the DMV right after school. She was absolutely sure I’d pass my test, even though the mere thought of it was enough to give me a panic attack. Of course, this was before I’d been forced to drive myself to and from school. Maybe this was part of some twisted plan she’d hatched to make me spend the rest of the week practicing? But Ivy wasn’t sadistic. She wouldn’t have wanted to freak me out on purpose.
She wasn’t thinking of you at all, a sad little voice inside me said.
The rain started up again. On a good day, there was nothing cozier than the sound of rain striking the metal roof. But right now, that same pinging noise sounded hollow and hopeless. I shivered, forcing myself to admit something. Maybe I was struggling to accept the note because I didn’t want to believe that Ivy would have left of her own free will, without even telling me. I couldn’t deal with the fact that Ivy needed to escape from me in order to be herself, because without her I didn’t know who I was.